Bridging the pandemic learning gap 

Kiwanis and Key Club members join forces on a new tutoring program.

By Cindy Dashnaw 

In late March 2022, Cindy Christison, current president-elect of the Kiwanis Club of Fairfield, California, needed a project for the Key Club she advises. At the same time, she had a nagging concern that uneven learning during the pandemic would force teachers to slow down or repeat lessons. 

That’s when inspiration struck. Key Club members could tutor youngsters during the break between school semesters. But could they be ready in less than three months? 

It turned out they could. The club’s free COVID Catch-up Tutoring Program launched with a single-minded purpose: to bridge the elementary school math and reading learning gap made worse during pandemic isolation.  

To get started, Christison trained as a tutor with Leaven Kids, an area nonprofit focusing on education intervention for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. The organization also shared its lesson plans. Five Kiwanis members volunteered to administer the project; others would later lead tutoring virtually and in person within various geographic areas and for children with special needs.  

The club needed to work with school districts to reach students, so it conducted a pilot program over mid-semester break that proved the plan’s efficacy. Christison prepared to recruit tutors from all seven affiliated Key Clubs by creating a dedicated chat channel online. 

“I wanted a community, a place where we could help each other, do research together and share experiences,” she says. “Also, recognizing that mental health is an epidemic among teens, I wanted these high schoolers to feel like Catch-up was a safe space.”  

By the end of August, 65 Key Club members had given 1,477 hours to 193 students. The tutors brought new insights to grow the program, including sharing their experience with IXL, a personalized learning program. 

“It’s what we ended up leveraging for the remainder of the program. We bought the math and language arts skills IXL programs for 90 days,” Christison says. “Also, when students were struggling, tutors would sometimes identify unknown learning disabilities. One of our parents connected us with a professional behavior therapist, and she’d work with kids who needed help.” 

Due to its success, the COVID Catch-up Tutoring Program is coming back this year between semesters. Moreover, Christison has created a program manual so other Kiwanis clubs can replicate it.  

One of the intangible benefits of the program also happens to be Christison’s favorite. 

“The relationships that formed between the mentors and mentees and families are really the cherry on top. By the end of the program, parents were buying gift cards and presents for the tutors. They were so grateful,” she says. “These teenagers could have been doing anything over the summer, and instead they did this. Some of them gave over a hundred hours. I told them, ‘You chose to call in. You did that. And you should be proud.’”  

For questions or the program manual, contact Christison at 

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